I sincerely thank everyone who stuck with me through spotty updates and gave me encouragement. Here is the epilogue, and I do NOT plan to write a sequel. I know there's potential there, but this story is completely done in my head, so whatever happens next is completely up to your imagination. It's been a fun ride, guys. Feel free to leave a review.
Harry stood in front of the Head Auror's desk and tried not to fidget. Said Head Auror, a tall older man named Jeremiah Jumper, took his merry time reading Kingsley's report on Harry's first case. Every so often, he would mutter an "Mm-hmm," or grimace a little, but by and large he gave no reaction.
Harry was sure that his first case was enough of a disaster to end his Auror career before it even got started. Destroying half of London and breaking the International Statute of Secrecy so thoroughly that it could never be used again surely warranted being kicked out of the Auror training program.
Finally, Jumper looked up from the report. "Well, Mr. Potter, it seems to live up to every lofty expectation granted you," he said. "Congratulations on a first case well solved. I'm sure your next case, while not as interesting, will help you get more practice in the more…day-to-day skills we Aurors employ."
Harry felt his jaw drop. After a minute of trying to get his voice to work, he finally croaked out, "You mean…I'm not sacked?"
"Sacked?" Jumper actually chuckled. "My dear boy, why would you ever think such a thing?"
"But…the Statute of Secrecy…"
"Yes, that will be a problem. However, it is not your problem," Jumper said. "Let the nation's Ministries and the Wizengamot deal with the world knowing about wizard-kind. You focus on becoming the brilliant Auror that you are turning into." He looked back down at the report and shook his head, muttering under his breath, "Only the Boy Who Lived could have pulled this off."
"Th-thank you, sir," Harry said, dumbfounded. He hadn't been this surprised since…well, since yesterday, when the horrible noise of the worlds splitting faded away and sunshine filtered down through the haze of smoke, ash, and dust. They had all been still alive. That had been an incredible relief. And as nice as it still was… "Sir, I still feel responsible for everything that has happened. If I had recognized the demon sooner, or been able to stop him from going through the veil—"
"Harry, if anyone else had taken this case, they would have assumed that Isaac Harwell was cursed from the beginning, and they would have focused on keeping him locked up in St. Mungo's until it was far too late to even think about demonic possession or anything of the sort. You stayed right on top of this case, and you did it with ease. No one is to blame for what happened, and I daresay a great deal of good shall come of it, even if the immediate future seems bleak. Be proud, Harry. Not disappointed."
"Yes, sir." Harry looked down, fiddling with one last question in his mind as Jumper busied himself with filing away the report. Finally, the Head of the Auror Department turned from his filing cabinet and looked back up at Harry. "Yes, Trainee? Is there anything else?"
"Sir…" Harry continued debating the question, but since he already had Jumper's attention, he decided to go with it. "Isn't there anything we can do about the International Statute of Secrecy? After over three hundred years…"
"Yes, it's a shame, isn't it?" Jumper said. "But there really is nothing we can do about the destruction and death toll in London, and especially about the merger with the…underworld." He paused and shuddered. Harry didn't blame him. "No, no, the secret is out, and there is nothing we can do about it. There are far too few of us to go around Obliviating the mind of every single Muggle in the world. All we can do now is live with it."
"Of course," Harry agreed, but he could not help remembering life with his aunt and uncle, and he was worried.
He left Jumper's tiny makeshift office and walked down the stairs to where Kingsley had set up his own room. Due to the destruction of the Ministry of Magic and the worldwide uproar caused by the revelation of the existence of wizards, most of the British wizarding community—including the government—had fled to the one place they felt secure: Hogsmeade. It was still the only all-wizard community in Britain, and now it was overflowing with witches and wizards from all over the country. The Ministry had managed to commandeer a small three-story building on the main street, and now the more important officials both lived and worked in its cramped rooms.
Kingsley was hard at work scribbling the latest in a long line of letters and orders when Harry knocked on his doorframe. "Come on in," he said with a glance up.
"I don't want to disturb you if you're busy, sir," Harry replied, staying just outside. "I can come back later."
"Harry, I going to busy for many months, possibly years to come, and I know you have other places to be as well." Kingsley put down his quill and waved him in. "But I need a break and you look like you need encouragement. Jumper accepted my report, I hope?"
"He did," Harry said, stepping in and slumping down into the single guest chair. "I get to keep training to be an Auror. That's not what I'm worried about."
"There is quite a lot to be worried about," Kingsley said. "What is foremost in your mind?"
"The Statute of Secrecy. How are we going to handle telling the world that we have existed under their very noses for centuries?"
"That, I am leaving up to capable liaisons such as Harriet Monaghan," Kingsley replied.
Harry stared at him. "You're…letting other people figure it out?"
"Harry, delegating is one of the most important jobs of Ministers and Heads of Office. Remember that when you are the head of the Aurors."
"Er, right," the young wizard said with a blush. He doubted that he would ever achieve that loft position, but Kingsley said it like it was already set in stone. He didn't know what to think of that, so he continued with his questions. "What about the shadow magic? It seems really powerful, and I hate to think of someone like Voldemort getting their hands on it."
"Few people other than you and I even know it exists," Kingsley said. "But just in case, I allowed the Ishtar boy to take back the Millennium Items on his promise that he would find some way to destroy them, or at least keep them hidden from the world. I'm also ordering the veil to be torn down permanently. Magic drawn from death is too volatile and dangerous to even study, so I choose to let it stay buried in the ancient past."
Harry grinned at him. "That sounds good to me, sir. There is one last thing, though. I'm not really worried about it; I'm just curious."
Kingsley raised an eyebrow at him, a silent consent for him to continue.
"Why didn't we see Voldemort in the merged world? Or Grindelwald, or any of the other dark wizards we've fought over the years?"
The Minister sat back and considered this for a minute. "I cannot be sure," he said at last. "But likely there is more to the world of death than just what we saw. It could be that Voldemort was in a place that we could not see, and that he cannot escape from."
"That…sounds reasonable enough to me," Harry said slowly. "I hope it's true. I'd hate to think that what we saw is all there is to being dead."
"As would I," Kingsley replied. "Have I eased your mind?"
"For now." Harry grimaced as he stood up. "I'm sure I'll be worried all over again in another hour."
His mentor's expression softened. "Be careful out there, Harry."
"I will, sir. Thank you," Harry said. He walked from the office and down to the building's front door. Ron and Hermione waited for him just outside.
"What took you so long, mate?" Ron asked. "Did the report not go well?"
"It went well," Harry answered with a grin. "I'm still in training."
"Of course you are," Hermione said dismissively. "Kingsley wouldn't write a bad report on you, and no one in their right mind would choose to interpret it badly. Are you ready to go now?"
"Yeah. Just got a few questions out of my mind first." Harry took a deep breath. The three of them were Apparating back to London to join one of the clean-up crews that was sweeping through the streets. Having seen the destruction as it was taking place, he knew it was going to be a difficult and heart-wrenching job. However, it was less than he owed the city and the people who lived there. He had decided to stop playing the if-only game in his mind—for every better scenario he thought up, five worse ones presented themselves—but he still felt guilty about being fooled by Zorc when it possessed Ryou Bakura and escaped to find the veil. That was something it would take a while to overcome.
He smiled as Hermione took his and Ron's hands. He knew he would overcome it. And he would help the people of London and become an Auror and be a wizard in a world that knew all about wizards. Why should any of it scared him? He had faced down a demon…and lived.
Hermione squeezed tight, and together they twisted into Disapparition.
The two boys stumbled as the Portkey dropped them into the office of the Japanese Portkey Authority. No one was there to greet them so, feeling a little lost and forgotten, they made their way through the Ministry until they found the front lobby. There they stopped when Ryou walked over to the waterfall and dipped his hand into the pool at its base.
"You're…really happy to be alive, aren't you?" Yugi said.
Ryou shrugged, watching the water ripple around his fingers. "Happy…surprised…confused. I lived my life three thousand years ago and died wasting it on empty vengeance. Why am I still here now? Why wouldn't the dead claim me for their own when their world pulled away?"
"Because they know you don't belong with them," Yugi answered with a smile. "Not yet."
Ryou snorted. Did the smaller boy always have such optimism?
Yugi sat down beside him. "Really, Bakura-kun. You've got a second chance. What does it matter what you did three thousand years ago? You helped us defeat Zorc. Zorc is gone, this time for good." He sounded like he couldn't believe it even as he said it. "Now you have a second chance at life. Instead of questioning it, why not make the most of it?"
Why not, indeed? Ryou took a deep breath. For the first time that he could remember, he felt free. Zorc was gone…destroyed. The weight that he hadn't even known he had carried had been lifted, and he was free to live as he chose. He thought back to the previous day, when the demon had slid apart under Horoakhty's sword and the merged world separated. He had thought he would die…probably everyone did. It was a separation felt in the soul as much as sensed around them. Terrible, core-deep pain, the loud roar of thunder, the shaking ground, electricity in the air…and then quiet. Stillness. When he had looked up, the sun was filtering down through the haze. The dark skies and strange mist were gone, along with all the spirits that had been summoned. They were alone…and alive.
"Do you think Malik will find a way to destroy the Millennium Items?" he asked suddenly. He didn't want to think about not seeing any of his family again.
"Probably," Yugi replied. "Unless some other wizarding ministry has an open door to the underworld, they should just be ordinary, if a little creepy, hunks of gold."
Hunks of gold with my people's flesh and blood in them, Ryou thought, but he bit the retort back. That wasn't Yugi's fault, and he wasn't entirely sure that Yugi even knew about it. If he didn't, better to leave him in the dark.
"He'll probably be able to just melt them down," Yugi was saying, not noticing the small bit of inner turmoil he had sparked in his comrade. "If not, he'll put them in the deepest corners of the Ishtar vault, where no one will ever find them again."
"I suppose that's the best we can hope for," Ryou said, pulling his hand out of the pool and shaking off fat drops of water. He dried it on his shirt and stood up. "What do you plan to do now?" he asked.
"Go back to life," Yugi replied without a second thought. "Duel monsters, school, my friends…I can't wait to tell them what happened. They'll be so mad that they missed out. What about you?"
Ryou shrugged. "Finish school. Go to college. After that…"
"You could be an Egyptologist easily," Yugi pointed out.
"I have no desire to have a job that sticks me in a past I want to forget."
"Right," the smaller boy murmured, looking down in embarrassment. Then a mischievous grin stole across his face. "Well, you could always become a wizard instead."
Ryou groaned. Just before they had left to return home, a wizard at the British Ministry had insisted on testing all three boys for signs of magical talent. Malik and Yugi had come up negative. Whatever magic they had once possessed had been given to them solely by the Millennium Items. Ryou, much to his humiliation, had turned out to have "enormous magical potential." The wizard had been baffled as to how no one had noticed him before. Ryou suspected it had something to do either with Zorc or with being a reincarnation.
"I'll think about that," he muttered.
"You should," Yugi said, serious this time. "It gives you options, if nothing else."
Ryou nodded. "Thanks, Yugi-kun."
"What are friends for?" he replied. "Come on. We've got some major explaining to do."
Friends. For Yugi to still say that after all he had done meant a lot. Ryou smiled as he followed the smaller boy through the crowds of bustling, worried-looking wizards to the street outside.
The sun was shining. The air was warm. And he had friends.
Perhaps Ryou Bakura could make use of this second chance, after all.